Oct 28, 2014

One-on-One With Ernel Martinez

by: Steve Weinik

Ernel Martinez came to Philadelphia twelve years ago as a student at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he took a class with Jane Golden, Executive Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia. Since then, Martinez has featured prominently in Mural Arts’ body of work, having worked as a lead or assistant artist in close to 30 projects across Philadelphia. His latest, ASpire: No Limits will be dedicated Saturday November 8.

You’ve worked with Mural Arts for more than a decade. What are some of the projects that are closest to you?

Two projects that I’m really proud of are Paul Robeson in West Philly and of course Malcolm X at Ridge and Diamond, which was one of my first murals with Mural Arts. I’m still tremendously proud of that project and how it’s holding up.

In your years with Mural Arts you’ve worked across most of our programs, including Community Murals, Porch Light, and Restorative Justice. Can you tell us a little about your experience with our range of programming?

I’ve worked with the men in Graterford. I’ve worked with homeless teens in Philadelphia with the journey2home project. One of the greatest assets of being a part of Mural Arts is the opportunity to collaborate with other artists, staff, community leaders and with other really brilliant minds. That’s inspired me to push what I do artistically in new directions.

Can you tell us a little about your current project, ASpire: No Limits?

ASpire is a mural dedicated to Dr. Shawn L. White, who passed away recently. He was diagnosed with hypertension and he died at a very, very early age, just 41. He was very involved in his community. He was also a local musician, producer and close friends with Tariq Trotter from The Roots. He was very influential in how they went about making music.

We’re sitting at the mural, but this is one part of a long run of programming. How did you participate in these other aspects of the project?

We had a series of barbershop talks and activities for young people in the neighborhood here in Point Breeze. Barbershops hosted a series of weekly workshops conducted by Will Little and Kevin Brown. The workshops gave kids the opportunity to be involved in painting the mural, as well as learn about the importance of education and other life skills.

Can you tell us about the mural design?

It’s a text based mural that speaks to many of Dr. White’s qualities as an activist, musician, and community leader, and it reflects some of his contributions to young men in particular as far as being health conscious and making safe lifestyle decisions.

The geometric shapes reference a map of Point Breeze. The top of the composition is Washington avenue. The very far right is Broad street. So it’s basically a map of the neighborhood that Shawn grew up in.

So each of the rectangles is a city block?

That’s correct.

That’s really cool, I had no idea.

Who was your team from Mural Arts on this project?

I’ve had a wonderful team of assistants, Tash Billington and Gloria Martin, that helped paint and install it. We also worked from guys from The Guild, (Restorative Justice apprenticeship program) They’ve helped us paint the mural.

You’re also part of Amber Arts & Design. Can you tell us a little about that?

For the last 2 years, I’ve been involved with Amber Arts & Design, which is a collective based in North Philly. Many of the artists in Amber, Kier Johnston, Willis Humphrey, Linda Fernandez and Charles Barbin, we’ve all worked extensively with Mural Arts. We’ve been inspired by the public art we’ve done with Mural Arts and now we’re pushing what public art can be in different directions. It’s a very exciting time for Amber.

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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